A pretty beach town, it has the right blend of touristy lure and laidback Lankan life

Must say, being so close to the Colombo international airport has worked brilliantly for Negombo. So much so that a lot of international tourists now bypass Colombo and head straight to Negombo situated just 20 kms from the airport, roughly the same distance to Colombo city in the opposite direction. Azure sea, shimmering sun and a quiet little town speckled with churches — a Dutch legacy of the town, have put together sufficient promise to offer tourists a fresh peek at Lankan life.

My first experience of Negombo is that of a veritable street party. Navigating through a protracted string of multi-coloured restaurants with tempting open air sit-outs and boards announcing the day's special dishes , we arrive at the beach, Negombo's primary tourist attraction. It is the monthly Poya day, the day of full moon, a Lankan holiday. So, along with foreign tourists, day trippers from Colombo and other nearby towns abound the beach with their picnic lunch and an extra change of clothes.

Sea on song

Wails of excitement at the sea splashing noisily at the revellers, the water riotously hitting against the shore rocks and spraying on everything around it, paint a spectacle of sheer excitement and thrill. Fully wet and half-so men, women and children gaily wallop on the ebb and flow of waves while some others are busy taking pleasure in juicy local ice creams, fresh coconut water, seafood snacks, and of course, in a bout of cricket on the shore.

Some peppy Lankan music playing loudly at the backdrop gives a fine finish to the carnival atmosphere.

Joining in the fun, we whoop it up in the riding waves, taking breaks to pose for photographs and of course, to snap the swaying sapphire sea tirelessly slapping its waters on the rocky shore.

For lunch, we tick on Lords, picked by our holiday Bible, Lonely Planet, as Negombo's “most creative eating experience.” Run by an Englishman, Lords is a café-cum-art gallery where you can pick works of local artistes. Its food, said to be “a hybrid of western and eastern flavours”, magnifies our anticipation. Alas! Lords keeps its kitchen closed on Poya.

Our next choice is a lovely restaurant with three sides open, armed with a pretty bar and neat wooden planks quite artistically turned into tables and chairs. Going for some Lankan curry rice variety here do not disappoint us. Chomping on succulent mussels and prawns, downing the meal with chilled Lion beer served to us with the promise that we keep the glasses hidden behind the flowers on our table (No alcohol is served officially on Poya across Sri Lanka), we immerse in the laidback mood of Negombo.

What impresses us most about Negombo is that you can live in the town yet be free of tourist frenzy. Most of the touristy action is in the vicinity of the beach, which is a good three-four kilometres from the main town centre. However, if you are keen on visiting its churches, you have to go to the residential side. Taking a look at the St. Mary's Church is a good idea to gauge the Dutch influence in Negombo. Some distance away is Angurukaramulla Temple with the statue of a six-km-long reclining Buddha. If you can make it to the island of Duwa joined in to the town by a lagoon bridge, you won't be disappointed. And every July-end, the town welcomes you to be a part of its annual Fishers' Festival.

Interestingly, Negombo is also often referred to as “Little Rome”, not just for its umpteen Catholic churches but also because many locals receive money from their family members working in Italy.

We go to this picturesque town on a day visit from Colombo, wheeling over many canals, yet another Dutch heritage of Negombo.

In case you are willing to go straight to Negombo from the airport, like many tourists these days, there are umpteen options for hotels ranging from budget to top end. For details and bookings, you can search on the Internet or log on to the Sri Lankan tourism website.